Monday, June 6, 2011

An Open Letter to Leslie Cannold @ The Age about the Rape-and-Tape Industry (Pornography)

photograph chronicling the early years of anti-pornography activism is from here

Hi Leslie Cannold,

I've known many women across my life who have been negatively effected by pornography both inside and outside the industry. I found your comments about pornography startling in some regards. I'll note what was surprising or problematic for me below. You ask what motivates people: fear or hope? I'd first like to say that there are more choices than that. Hatred motivates some people. Desire to acquire power or to acquire more power--as they define it--motivates lots of people. So too does the desire to survive another day or night. Other motivators in my experience are selfishness, addiction, loneliness, desperation, need, compulsion, obsession, desire to not feel certain feelings, to not feel pain, and to not feel disconnected or isolated or alone.

As you probably know, most women in the pornography industry got there out of a need to survive, and to not be alone. A good friend of mine was taken off the street by a male pimp when she was fourteen. He seasoned her to be available to strange, much older men for sex--she was at least as young as many of the procurers' daughters. She was still on the street part of the time--working, but at least had a place to rest occasionally.

Her story would be "an anecdote" were it not for the fact that her age at the point of becoming a prostitute is the average one. This means that half the women in prostitution are fourteen or older when they start, and half the girls are fourteen or younger. Half. Do you want us to focus only on those fourteen and older in order to get us to feel more hope? Or ought we contend with the harsh reality of the fourteen and younger population no matter what it leads us to feel--even despair? I'll take the despair and the hope--and the fear--that comes from consciousness. The denial your article supports actually makes me feel far more hopeless than the facts Gail Dines brings to the public for consideration. I find activism inspiring, and efforts to shut down appropriate activism really disheartening.

Trafficking of girls as sex slaves and sexxx-things for consumers is globalised. Millions of girls are trafficked daily, as I hope you know. Every girl--a person with a future collapsed into getting through one more day--is made to endure some form of sexual abuse, or to withstand another rape, several times a day or night. To say the conditions are abysmal wouldn't be inaccurate.

This is the primary population of people who comprise the performers in pornography. And by pornography I mean the corporately produced material that is published by pimps for mass consumption that earns billions of dollars annually for those already rich-enough pimps. (I'm not talking, at all, about some heterosexual or gay or lesbian couple's sex tape, or individuals who have a web cam and decide to earn money letting people see into their bedroom as they masturbate or have sex with someone else. That stuff, quite honestly, isn't my concern. If people genuinely want to do that, then they will and they should. Nothing in my own political practice or that of any anti-pornography feminists I know will have any effect on their ability to earn money or to try and get other needs met that by performing sex in those ways. This is also to say, there's nothing the anti-pornography feminists are doing that will take away or "ban" any of your pornography of that of any else. Gail Dines opposes all efforts to ban porn: you didn't make that explicitly clear in your article.)

The primary population of girls and women who are raped and otherwise sexually assaulted as a requisite way of getting them into the industry, or to keep them there, means there's nothing only-anecdotal about the experience--it is common, usual, ordinary, and entirely status quo. (I accept that a few, more privileged women in the world "freely choose" to be in pornography, although when women are paid as much to do everything else, I'll find the words "free" and "choose" to be more socially and economically meaningful.)

Girls and women are being raped multiple times a day and some of them are photographed or videotaped and some of those images and films are sold. This is accepted, defended, protected, and accommodated in every country in which it is happening: the trafficking of girls is accepted, defended, and protected; the prostitution is accepted, defended, and protected; visually recording rape is accepted, defended, and protected. For most women--for most of us--to do it for any length of time, opiate and other categories of addictive drugs are usually needed. That's the norm, not the exception. It's easier to go after messengers of that unpleasant news than to really emotionally comprehend what that feels like.

So we have a large group of girls and women, many drug-addicted so they're not in the most empowered or liberated frame of mind, who have been raped countless times--dozens, at least; more likely hundreds. Do you really mean to pretend that there's no normalised harm in that industry? If so, I'd say that's a stunningly callous and pro-status quo position to hold.

Throughout your article, you phrase and frame the issue as if it is one of ideas only--with no rapes happening anywhere at all to the girls and women in the industry who are being photographed and videotaped while drugged. Do you honestly believe most of those performers are not experiencing routine sexual harassment and sexual abuse? If you do, please see The Price of Pleasure. You can find it free, online. (Note: I'm linking you to images that are pornographic, not trying to censor them.)

I would argue, based on the knowledge of pornography and pornographers you show in your article, that you're living an unusually advantaged life relative to most women on Earth. One kind of advantage is having the option to be unaware of the atrocities going on around the world in places you do not socialise or live.

I had some contacts in Tokyo after the earthquake hit earlier this year. Had I not, I wouldn't have known what was really going on there. The US media was not reporting most of what was happening that was terrifying--long after the tsunami destroyed so many people and so many other people's livelihoods and homes. I had to have those connections to know. (It's still a nuclear nightmare.) But being a US citizen, I wasn't required to have those connections. This is how it is with most atrocity that isn't happening to you or me, of course. Those of us who can afford to not know, generally won't take the time--or don't have the time--to find out.

If you were a girl in many cities across North America, in Europe, and in Asia, you would be far more likely not be able to not know what I've written above. You might find ways to block it, blunt it, or dissociate from it, but not knowing a thing about it would be exceptional to impossible.

Your article contains a few statements that skip over the atrocities I've identified above as socially existent and significantly and traumatically affecting the lives of millions and millions of female human beings--and plenty of male human beings too.

I'll excerpt a few below from your recent article for The Age.
Dines used her many festival and media platforms to contend that pornography degraded women. It did this by modelling Brazilian waxes and depicting women enjoying anal sex and men ejaculating on their faces. 
Have you seen a great deal of the pornography--the stuff produced by millionaire pimps? It appears from this statement you have not. Again, I hope you see The Price of Pleasure.
Dines asserted without evidence that boys as young as 11 were viewing this material, which she said was not only more violent than Playboy or Hustler but also apparently the snuff films of the 1980s that so outraged her hero, the American radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. 
Surely you're kidding. (Aren't you?) You don't actually think most eleven year-old boys with access to computers have never sought out images from that rape-and-tape industry? Do you seriously doubt that most eleven year-old boys have seen internet pornography that we used to call "hard core", and plenty of images depicting more degrading violence against women than that?

And surely you're kidding when you imply that today's pornography, overall, isn't any different than that from the 1970s. You don't see images ubiquitously on the internet that are more violent than Playboy and Hustler? You must not be looking. As I recall, those paper magazines were violent in many ways that people didn't readily see as such. Hiding the worst of what's done is standard practice for all major corporations. Why would the pornography industry be an exception to this rule? For example, with its own abuses, the pharmaceutical industry does a great deal of harm to animals, people, and the environment, but not in full-frontal view of those of us who purchase or are prescribed their allegedly safe drugs. To say any significant industry hasn't changed much in the last thirty to forty years is to not know much about what has and is going on there.
The minds of young Aussie boys would be deformed by this stuff, Dines conjectured, leading to a future filled with sexual assault, paedophilia and all forms of "economic, political, and legal discrimination" against women.
The minds of anyone who consumes anything at all--from sugar and sugar-substitutes, to McDonalds fast food,  to cocaine, to cell phones, to the exhaust from fossil fuel-burning cars, to pornography to television commercials will have their minds affected--that's the reason those things can be marketed and sold at all: surely you don't think they exist to actually meet our deepest needs or for our health. Or do you?
Dines's claims are vulnerable on almost every level.
They'd be more vulnerable if they were, in fact, just claims. But, as several commenters have noted at the article's website, her facts are backed by very solid research. That other researchers--often those hired by pimps--come up with other results that makes the industry seem not-so-bad, surprises me not at all: tobacco industry researches told us cigarettes were harmless for decades after they knew they were both addictive and damaging to our health.

So I'd argue Dines' assertions of fact are not vulnerable on the level of reality, if one cares enough to know what is happening there. Again, you'd have to be willing to leave the comforts of a middle class life to really find out. The pornography industry is many things: 'pretty' isn't one of them. Here's the first portion of what each of the two filmmakers of The Price of Pleasure--a woman and a man--have to say on beginning the journey into that largely hidden world:
Having grown up in Taiwan, I did not see my first porn film until I was thirty years old, when I came to the U.S. as a graduate student in Boston in 1990.
Contrary to many women being pushed to watch porn by their boyfriends, I had a shy partner who never had the courage to rent a porn video. The few times that I reached for the top shelf at the Video Smith in Brookline to grab a porn video, I had to endure the torturous journey – ignoring other men peering at me out of the corner of their eyes while I was cruising through this off limits section, holding the extra large video box with vivid pictures for everyone to see while I stood in a long check-out line, and then waiting for the clerk to slowly take the video out of its box and put it in a black box which everyone knew was for porn anyway. Although this journey made me descend from a respectable to a fallen woman, there was something thrilling and daring because I was against the constraints set by both Chinese and American patriarchy that disapproved of women's consumption of porn. I figured, if not being allowed to watch porn was part of the sexual repression, then rebelling against it must be liberating and even feminist. -- Producer, Director & Writer: Dr. Chyng Sun
When I began working on The Price of Pleasure over 4 years ago, I expected, more than anything, to learn the process of filmmaking. That the film’s topic was to be pornography was, at the time, of a secondary consideration. I had what can be considered conventional liberal beliefs about pornography and the contemporary pornography industry – pornography was free speech; pornography represented a liberatory sexuality, intervening in the repressive moral codes of religion, conservatism, and infantilizing protectionism; that pornography was a “free” choice, made by both consumers and performers who made their living by engaging in sex onscreen; and I had also assumed that the majority of the pornography out there looked very much the like the pornography I had experienced as an adolescent, or saw at bachelor parties during my career in investment banking – mostly “conventional” sexual practices, with a nominal degree of mutuality. -- Co-writer and Associate Producer: Robert Wosnitzer
They don't sound like fascistic anti-free speech people to you, do they? Their film is more speech on this subject, not less--isn't it?

You go on:
She confuses evidence with anecdote (talk of "my students" is the latter) and correlation with causation
Is someone referencing the experiences of people they know unethical to you? As commenters below your article remark, what backs up your arguments, besides anecdotes and possibly some well-funded research paid for by pimps to produce the outcomes that put them in the least criminal light? You offer nothing to bolster your speculations and distortions.
(does horrible violent porn turn healthy men into rapists or do rapists watch horrible violent porn?).
It might work for you to pose ridiculous-sounding questions as a strategy to discredit an expert speaker on a subject. I'll have a go at it:

Do cigarettes always turn smokers into lung-cancer patients who die an early wretched death? The answer is no. But the answer is also that cigarettes do substantively contribute, as one factor among others, to the normal maintenance of significant and grievous harm--people do lose their lives, and many lives are cut short. Many of us grieve our lost relatives or loved ones who died of smoking-related illness and disease. Someone arguing your points on this matter would come across like a shill for the tobacco industry. Do you intend to do that for the rapist pimps?

You also wrote:
She also wasn't averse to mischief

This is not to mention the irrationality of her basic proposition. Rape and misogyny pre-date hard-core internet porn by thousands of years. How then was turning off the tap of internet porn going to solve the problem?
Rape and other sexual violence against women pre-existing pornography doesn't mean pornography isn't tied to rape, Leslie. Your argument, put in other terms, might go like this: massive human suffering and death caused by plagues pre-dates the AIDS crisis by thousands of years. How then would curing AIDS stop suffering and death caused by disease? Do you get what's truly cynical, callous, and flawed, about the argument?

Unfortunately, it will probably work for most readers for you to use these words: contend, asserted, conjectured, claims, mischief, irrationality, to categorise and dismiss the work of a long-time human rights activist, professor, and writer. Regardless, I think it fair and reasonable to assume that she knows far more about the pornography industry and exactly how it is implicated in harm to human beings than do most people--except those who have worked in it and survived it. If you think Gail has never bothered to speak with many women who are in or have survived and gotten out of the rape-to-tape industry, you'd be just plain wrong. I say "survived it" because I'm not willing to make atrocity disappear; that seems like something Germans-in-denial wished to do during the era of Nazi rule. As a Jew, I object to that sort of evasion of difficult or inconvenient truths. And if the mass rape of girls isn't enough of enough of an atrocity to you, I'm worried about your conscience and your heart.

You continued:
But the big difficulty with the Dines approach is its cultivation of fear over hope. From the moment Dines set foot in Australia, she was beating the panic drum. Panic about the internet, about the developing sexuality of adolescent boys and the inevitable victimisation of poor, vulnerable girls. Don't forget about rape and sexual violence, girls, she seemed to be saying, or the complexity of pre-marital sex! Don't get too confident, or careless with your trust or your movements, the world is still a terrifying place. 
If we correct your misstatements and inaccuracies, and simply deal with the facts of the matter,  we are left with this question: what is the appropriate level of disregard and denial when confronted with news that is disturbing and upsetting because it involves actual human beings being treated inhumanely? Should we work hard to repress our anger about rape and gross sexual exploitation of girls and women--and boys and men and transgender and intersex people too? Should we try and shore up our false sense of security and delusions that the status quo works by not harming millions of people in dreadful ways?

If you are a white Australian citizen, I'm hoping you know about the genocide in your country, and the anti-Indigenous genocide in the US as well. Or do you think that because dominant media won't cover these atrocities, they aren't happening? Shall we feel hope in the face of mass denial and the corporate maintenance of delusion? Is disrupting the relative peace of the privileged, perhaps even to the point of generating some fear in those masses--or outrage, compassion, or a consciousness with which to do then work with others to effect social change--really something that is unwanted and unwelcomed by you?
I see it differently. When I look at the sexuality and values of young people, I feel hopeful of a increasingly gender egalitarian world. I read the studies and see the young men who populate my own world and feel confident that growing numbers of men understand the difference between healthy lust and sexual violence, accept their duty to share the work of home and children and respect women's rights.
Which world is that, Leslie? What part of the big, challenging world is that happening in? To whatever extent it is happening, great. But that doesn't mean that's all that's happening, does it? I mean if we have some promising research in cancer cures, does that mean chemical pollution of our bodies stops causing cancer, globally--at alarming rates?

Things can be (and are) truly awful--increasingly so for millions of people who are far less advantaged than you and me. These are the people who, so far, don't seem to be real to you. If you did, would you relate to, befriend, and believe them?
Yes, nasty porn is nasty and I'd certainly advise against watching it.
Once again you and Gail see things differently: Gail actually thinks we should be watching it--to know what it's trying to tell us about ourselves, our sexuality, and our society. So once again you're making stuff up and pretending it's a position Gail Dines takes. She doesn't. So why do you feel the need to lie? Why not just argue with the facts she describes? Are they too threatening to deal with? 
When it comes to sex, and all areas of life, I'd urge young women who don't want to do something to learn to say no. For a saner take on this issue Google Cindy Gallop's Make Love Not Porn TED video.
To learn to say no? So you want girls to say no to their fathers or step-fathers who rape them, who then grow up and have many problems with boundaries due to being told, incorrectly, that they are worthless or only exist to sexually please men? Do you want drug-addicted women living on the street, picked up by pimps, to say "no" and remain on the street--and to just say no to drugs too? Do you want the Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Asian girls and women who are enduring misogyny and racism to do what you're able to do because you're so advantaged? That's a callous and utterly compassionless thing to suggest to people, I'd say.

For the record, I like the Make Love, Not Porn website very much. And, it doesn't exist to help the privileged masses come to terms with the atrocities happening to girls and women around the world.
Yes, violence against women still happens and must be stopped but violence is not caused by porn.
How, Leslie, must it be stopped? I mean honestly and sincerely: how? Because it's very easy for liberal-minded white people to say things like "racism is bad" and "misogyny must end" without ever following that up with (or, even, promoting and supporting) decades of sustained activism actually working to achieve it. Someone once told me the definition of liberalism is that its practitioners make promises they have no intention of keeping. What are you, in your life, doing to stop the violence women and girls endure for being female not male, including in the pornography industry? Is attempting to discredit someone (who actually has been working to lessen racism and misogyny by showing it to people in such a way that they can't deny it's prevalence in our society, for decades) the best you can do?

Julian Real



The Porn Industry always produces its pro-porn apologists whenever feminist activists publicly produce evidence of the endemic male sexual violence committed against women and girls working in the Porn Industry.

The Porn Industry is a very powerful industry and it is essential their claims are perceived as 'facts' whereas feminist research evidence is dismissed as 'annecdotal.'

Still if all else fails the Porn Industry's apologists always fall back on that old mantra ' blame the women and girls.' This neatly takes the focus off male accountability and male demand which is the sole reason why porn exists in the first place.

This is women blaming 'When it comes to sex, and all areas of life, I'd urge young women who don't want to do something to learn to say no.' Leslie Cannold claims women just need to say no. Cannold is male and he was never taught as a boy 'your sole value and worth lies in being sexually available to males. He was never taught that because he is male he is worthless compared to females. No it is women who are taught as children (myself included) that we are worthless and that we must always make ourselves sexually available to the greater male!! We have no right of ownership of our bodies because they are male property.

But I and other women are supposed to utter that magic word 'no' and male sexual predators masquerading as our male friends/male relatives/male work colleagues will immediately desist in attempting to rape us. This includes women working in porn because they too are expected to say that magic word 'no' irrespective of fact women in porn are routinely subjected to sadistic male sexual violence because it is so sexxxy to the male buyer.

Cannold either you are incredibly naive or else you are deliberately maintaining the focus on women's supposedly accountability for preventing men from raping them. I believe it is the latter - because men learn as boys it is their innate right to have sexual access to any female because women are 'sex' not human beings. Men are responsible for their sexual actions not women but this is a glib way of hiding male accountability.

Thank you Julian for dissecting Cannold's annecdotal and utterly flawed article which is rife with claims and provides no factual evidence whatsoever. It is Cannold who is making assertions/claims and engages in irrational logic - see his assertion that women just need to say no!

Obviously Gail Dines is threatening men's pseudo right to view porn as well as unsettling the porn industry. That is why this misogynistic article was written by Cannold and swiftly published. Gail Dines is currently touring Australia and speaking out on the malestreaming of pornography.

Yes women need to see porn - the realities of porn that is - not the sanitised version porn industry claims is 'adult entertainment.' Difference is when presentations are given by feminist activists on the subject of porn we do not engage in sensationalist propaganda but analyse the images being filmed and make the links between mens' pseudo sex right to women and why male violence against women is normalised and invisibilised.

Pornography plays a very important part in normalising male domination over women but porn is not the only tool Male Supremacist system. Rather it is one of several including the male created legal system which ensures men's rights always supercede womens' rights not to be oppressed by men.

Owl Eyes said...

Solid response. I wish people would realize that Gail Dines has done her bloody homework! I mean, how blind does one have to be not to see the obvious evidence of patriarchy that the porn industry is!? The whole industry is based upon patriarchal values, but oh, let's "reform" it and allow the same old tired misogyny to continue. This woman is clearly privileged and unfortunately misunderstanding and misrepresenting Gail Dine's excellent and thorough work. Great work, Julian. I hope, if she responds, you can share it.

Julian Real said...

Hi Jennifer and Owl Eyes,

Thank you, to each of you, for your comments.

Jennifer, I believe Leslie is a woman, but you and I know apologists exist who are men and women. Thanks for your analysis here.

Owl Eyes, I so agree with you--how can one not see the patriarchy in pornography? To not see it must mean one doesn't think we live in a world plagued by patriarchy and its grossly dehumanising and destructive values, aesthetics, institutions, and industries.

Julian Real said...

Oh, and if she responds I hope she will do so here! But regardless, I'll seek her permission to post that response here.

theoreticalgrrrl said...

Greek was the first language I learned as a child (my parents are Greek immigrants) and if you speak Greek you immediately get the vicious woman-hatred and violence in the word pornograpy. Porni means a whore. So basically pornography means "whore-ography." Not erotica or sex, but the graphic depiction of "whores".

When I was a kid there was a billboard campaign in my city by parents of murdered girls and women where they would put up a childhood photo of their daughter with just the letters "NHI" written next to it.

NHI is police short-hand for No Humans Involved, which is what cops wrote on a police reports when a prostitute was murdered. These parents wanted the police to see their children as human, but being a "whore" completely erased the humanity of their daughters in the eyes of law enforcment.

Which is what most porn users believe about the rape and violence they see in porn. No humans involved.

Julian Real said...

I first learned of that definition from Andrea Dworkin's late '70s book Pornography: Men Possessing Women.

Thank you so much for sharing these stories of misogyny in Greece. I wish they could all be gathered up--stories like yours across the globe. It would make it abundantly and terrifyingly clear that we do not live in a world where men and women are warring against each other; men have been waging war on women for centuries--at least.

What you've described is a chilling reminder of how we have to keep our activism focused on and accountable to the most marginalised women, not only the most privileged.

When white, English-speaking class-privileged folks (across gender and sexuality) write of trying out prostitution as something to do for empowerment, I just want to scream. There's no sense at all that their interests ride on the very enslaved backs of other women who remain "inhuman" to them.

theoreticalgrrrl said...

Oh, no, this campaign was in San Diego, California. I grew up in the United States so that campaign was in the good old U.S.A where we have a democracy and care about human rights and stuff. I'm not sure how bad it is in Greece these days but they had democracy and stuff back in the day yet still owned male and female slaves, and wives and daughters were property(slaves) of their husbands/fathers. Which is how the founding fathers started the United States, so when you say a country has a democracy it ain't saying much is it?

Julian Real said...

"Democracy" surely isn't what folks in the US who applaud it think it is. It isn't empowerment of the people, or liberation from oppression, or, even, freedom from corrupt government and corporate-owned biased media.

The ideals that conservatives think our illegal and criminal wars in Central Asia are "preserving" are not really much more than ideals. And we violate the principles behind the ideals by dropping bombs on innocent people. And by making sure that the rape of women is always a possibility for men.

Yeah, our Founding Fathers sure didn't get it about white women, Indigenous women and men, African women and men, Mexican women and men, and anyone else who wasn't property-owning, white, and male.

Thanks for clarifying about where that campaign was. I'm not at all surprised it was in the US.

The attitudes and values behind "NHI" is just plain creepy and grotesquely inhumane. One really has to wonder about a society that refuses to see the full humanity of women (and girls) who are prostitutes.


Hi, Julian, I didn't realise Leslie Cannold is a woman but as you rightly say, we know there are many women who support pornography and refuse to see that what they are supporting is violent male hatred of all women because we are not human according to the pornographers and male supremacy.

I can't recall where I first learned about that misogynistic and women-hating term NHI but it shows how male supremacy divides women into 'compliant females' and other women are non-human but just men's diposable masturbatory aids.

Democracy is code word for men's rights and equality among men - women were never included because we supposedly aren't human. Despite fact some women are the tools of pornographers and believe they will earn 'cookies' reality is they will never be accepted by pornographers and sex industry as 'human' because continues to be reserved for males only.

theoreticalgrrrl said...

In my experience a lot of men fool themselves into thinking they're total progressive dudes and that sexism is something in the past because they treat the women in their immediate lives like their sisters and daughters and mothers and girlfriends and wives and even friends and co-workers well and as equals(kind of).

I've had male co-workers skeptically ask me if I really believe that things are "that bad" for women. These are the same co-workers who would say that it's cool that in places like Thailand you can get "anything you want" sexually and that prostitution, like drugs, should be legalized everywhere. One former co-worker of mine thought it was amusing that I got upset when he said how awesome it is that you can get young girls in Thailand and it's fully legal. It was more upseting that this was an older African American man who had marched in the sixties in the Civil Rights Movement. I was blown away that he couldn't see the humanity of these children who are sold into prostition, that he didn't consider a 12 year old in prostitution anything for me to get upset about, being that she's just a "whore".

Because men like this believe fully that there are good women who deserve dignity and then there are whores and it's a joke to consider them human. They don't even believe there's anything sexist or misogynistic about that because 'everyone' knows that sluts and whores are dirty and sleazy and deserve abuse and contempt. And there are women with this attitude too. Prostitution, both street and filmed (pornography), erases a woman and even a child's humanity completely. NHI.